Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) By next year's Missoula County Fair and for decades to come, rodeo fans and music-goers could enjoy events from a new seating facility planned to undergo construction this fall.

The $3 million project has been years in the making and continues the renovations taking place at the Midtown fairgrounds. It's also made possible by a $750,000 private donation from a local family deeply rooted in Missoula.

Emily Brock, director of lands and economic development for the county, said the existing bleachers were built in the 1950s. The facility has reached the end of its useful life.

“They served the residents of Missoula County faithfully for over half a century, and they're well beyond their useful life,” Brock said. “We plan to rebuild the landmark grandstands and arena in 2024.”

To fund the project, Bob Burns, market president of Stockman Bank in Missoula and chairman of the fairground's campaign, teamed up with Doug and Adam Bauer. The two own Missoula Concrete and Construction and agreed to provide the concrete risers for the new grandstands as an in-kind donation.

That portion of the project is valued at $750,000 and earned the Bauer's naming rights to the facility. But instead of naming it after their company, they included their long-time and faithful employee Dale Clouse.

As a result, the new facility will be named the Clouse-Bauer Arena. The Bauers provided the concrete risers for Washington-Grizzly Stadium and Orgen Field. The Clouse family has deep ties to the local agriculture community, including three generations of 4-H. One family member was also named “Man of the Year” at the 1984 Missoula County Fair.

“We've done 90% of the private fundraising and we have put together a financial model based upon the revenue from the fair and rodeo ticket sales,” Brock told the Missoula Current on Friday. “We're going to launch the public phase of the private fundraising to get us across the finish line during the fair."

Brock said demolition of the existing grandstands will begin on Sept. 24.

“We're going to push like crazy to get it back up before next year's fair,” she said.

The vision

Billie Ayers, events and operations manager at the fairgrounds, said the new facility will sit on the same footprint as the existing grandstands. But from there differences emerge.

The back side of the facility as it looks toward the center plaza.
The back side of the facility from the fairground's center plaza.

Those behind the project toured a number of facilities around the country and spent time watching “The Cowboy Channel” to help design a proper facility. Bringing the action closer to the crowd was key, Ayers said.

“We're opting for community connection,” she said. “There's a lot more people standing in the concourse than sitting in the seats. Events like to be successful and that comes from the energy of the audience. They don't like to be siloed in their chairs. We wanted to offer a combination between seated and standing in our design.”

The first row of seating will be at eye level with the arena while a number of concourses will offer standing room. The top concourse will also overlook the fairgrounds in general, offering views of the action from all sides.

The new facility will also offer more than just rodeos. Motorcycle racing could become a staple, along with concerts. As the Midtown district grows on the heels of the new master plan, the fairgrounds plans to be at the center of it.

Logan Foret, CEO of BFK Presents and a local entertainment promoter, said the facility will play a significant role in Midtown.

“I'm really hoping it comes to fruition in general,” Foret said of the new facility. “I've seen many companies come and go because there's no access to spaces just like this in our community. Access to things like this will present opportunities for independent promoters like myself. Beyond street events, we need permanent structures like this.”